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The South has barely reverted to Covid-19 Alert Level 3, but Act New Zealand leader David Seymour is already questioning why the island is not at Level 2 or lower.
All detected cases linked to the Auckland Delta cluster have been found in that city, or in Wellington.
Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed this afternoon there are 49 new community cases of the Delta variant - all in Auckland.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today ruled out a shift down to Level 2 for the South Island, saying that was not part of the plan.
Mr Seymour said yesterday the South Island should not have to wait until after next Monday’s Cabinet meeting to discover if the alert level would be dropped again.
‘‘The South Island has been completely let down by slow contact tracing efforts, leaving it locked down for far longer than it needed to be at Level 3.’’
In response to questions in Parliament yesterday asked by Mr Seymour, Ardern said 518 close contacts of the Auckland cluster had been identified in the South Island, and that some were still to have had day 12 tests.
Fewer than five of those contacts were in Otago or Southland, the Southern District Health Board said yesterday.
Ms Ardern said Mr Seymour misunderstood how the contact tracing system worked and she was confident all individuals at a location of interest had been identified.
‘‘But I would rather be cautious ... If we find a case in the South Island, we have the potential and the ability to contain it at this level; it would be much harder if we were free of restrictions.’’
Mr Seymour said more than one million lives in the South Island had been on hold while the Government awaited the results of a handful of tests.
‘‘Jacinda Ardern casually referred to Level 3 as the ‘wait and see level’, but wait and see means businesses are losing revenue, kids are not being educated and medical procedures are delayed.’’
Infectious disease specialists were confident the South Island could move to Level 2 next week, provided there were some minor, but important, changes to the alert level rules.
University of Otago epidemiologist Prof Michael Baker said there first needed to be evidence the virus was not being transmitted outside Auckland, including adequate precautions to ensure essential workers were not taking the virus to other parts of the country.
Also, the Level 2 rules needed to be upgraded to protect against the Delta variant which was easily transmitted through the air.
“As it is constructed at the moment, Alert Level 2 doesn’t provide very much protection against the virus circulating widely.
“It gets people back to work and back to school, which is what we want, but the only barrier is [physical distancing]. An airborne virus doesn’t respect that rule,’’ Prof Baker said.
He recommended adding another level between 2 and 3, which would require people to continue wearing face masks indoors at school and at work, which would reduce the size of another outbreak before it was detected.
“There’s no reason why the South Island or possibly the North Island outside of Auckland, could not move down quite quickly to an alert level below 3, with people back at work and school, but we just have to re-engineer the rules so there’s a barrier to prevent widespread circulation of respiratory viruses.”
University of Canterbury mathematics lecturer and infectious disease modeller Prof Michael Plank had become quite confident about a move down, because an outbreak had not been found “simmering away” in the community outside of Auckland.
“It’s likely that by now, we would have seen people testing positive or we would have had a positive wastewater result.
Cases could still leak out of Auckland, but the signs that outbreak was coming under control were encouraging.
Yesterday, about 180 Covid-19 tests were carried out by the SDHB, and total vaccinations passed 275,000.